Monthly Archives: December 2015

Wine and Water

Well, Christmas has seen off the urge to study. My two-hour reading pledge has gone by the wayside this week, although I have finished reading Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality. I enjoyed it so much I have bought a copy. Actually, I have bought two copies. The first copy I bought contains just the three essays. I judged it by its cover, which is modern and attractive. I don’t like the inside. I don’t like the typeset or the layout, I don’t like how it feels in my hands; it doesn’t open its pages without violence, and I’m not someone who is violent with books. So I have also bought the Penguin ‘Freud Library’ version, the same version I borrowed from MMU library. It has more content than the three essays. I’m waiting for it to arrive. Amazon tells me it is dispatched but I guess it is delayed in the Christmas card rush. I have started reading ‘The Unconscious’ which is rather harder to grapple with. I will start critically reading both books  later this week, when we settle into something like post-Christmas normality.

So, Christmas week. On Tuesday, my family came to celebrate an early festive special. My son, his wife and son, his two daughters and their families, my daughter and her family all came to my house for a pre-Christmas bash. We had fifteen people, twelve of whom slept over. This is no mean feat in a three bedroomed house, but we did it. And reasonably comfortably at that. Thank goodness for sofa-beds. How good it is for all the family to be together. When you grow up, this happens too rarely. We have pledged to make this an annual Christmas event. I hope we can honour that pledge. Food, drink, gifts, love. But mostly love.

We avoided the last minute rush by doing our fresh food shopping on Wednesday. When I say ‘avoided the rush’, this of course is relative. It was manic and I was glad we didn’t have a great deal to buy. People’s shopping trolleys always astound me at this time of year. Yards of Jaffa Cakes, tins of chocolates, crates and crates of booze. I’m not religious at all, unless atheism is a religion, but really, where is the Christ in Christmas these days? Modern abbreviations annoy me. Xmas replaces Christ with an unknown quantity; and as for Crimbo: what is that about? Perhaps we should rename Christmas the Gluttony Fest and forget Bethlehem altogether. Sorry, rant over. I forgot the cat biscuits so Bill called into Tesco on his way home from visiting relatives on Christmas Eve: a five minute car ride took twenty minutes and Tesco was full to overflowing with humanity: that is to say people, not human kindness: there is none of that meaning of humanity when folk are last minute shopping.

Thursday , Christmas Eve, I spent restoring our little home to its former glory, unmaking beds, folding away sofa-beds, generally tidying up. We also lit the fire in our multi-fuel burner, although really the weather is much too mild to warrant it. But the house looks cosier with a fire glowing in the hearth. We would have lit it for the family visit but family now involves babies who have just learned to crawl and we don’t have a fire guard. So we saved the ritual lighting until Christmas Eve. The Yule Log and all that; although, to be fair we burn smokeless fuel that in no way resembles a log. Still, the thought was there.

Christmas Eve: A Christmas Carol and Prosecco. I love Scrooge and see as many versions as are available over the festive season. This one was the Jim Carey cartoon version, in my opinion the best there is. It retains its integrity to the book, whereas some rely more on the popular view of Scrooge and Bah Humbug. I also watched the Muppets version over Christmas. This is my forty-something son’s favourite, but I must say Michael Caine is a bit wooden as Scrooge, playing himself again; and the whole thing resembled a school production to me. But said son is a teacher so perhaps that’s what appeals?

Christmas Day, Boxing Day: sofa-bumming. We watched the first day of the Boxing Day test, Cook out at 3-1, then rain. Something of a rally when play restarted but I think England are going to need to do better than this if they want to retain their hard-won cricket credentials. I’ll say nothing about my beloved Manchester United or I might have to start drinking again. ‘Call the Midwife’ didn’t disappoint: I got through three boxes of Kleenex. Always a tear-jerker, this one had two sad and joyful story lines to cry over.

Boxing Day also saw devastating flooding in the North West. Lancashire was particularly badly hit. Saddleworth villages were flooded as well. My daughter and I both live in Saddleworth villages, but we had the good fortune to buy houses on the tops of high hills so we were not personally inundated. But several homes and businesses close to the Tame were flooded when the river burst its banks. My heart goes out to friends affected by this. It’s trite to say it seems worse at Christmas: having your home flooded and your personal effects ruined is devastating at any time of year.

On that happy note, I’ll sign off. No poem this week, although I have been writing  ‘place’ poems for my favourite poetry group, Spelks, which meets on Tuesday next. Perhaps I’ll post one of those next week, after they’ve been workshopped.

So enjoy the rest of the Christmas period and have a truly happy, prosperous and creative New Year.




Plastering over the cuts

It’s been a busy week. I travelled back from Grange and the poetry carousel after Sunday lunch. This was an unusual writing weekend: only five writing exercises altogether with four tutors; but I feel as if I have five good poems from the weekend. Usually you would have one or two that would make the waste bin. I’ll post one later in this blog, a light-hearted poem about work.

On Monday I went into Manchester to finish my Christmas shopping. It was lovely to ‘do’ the Christmas markets with The Grinch but I didn’t let him steal Christmas. We managed to get our shopping all done. We had lunch in Proper Tea, the old Cathedral cafe. I love it there. We had a glass of gluhwein in Albert Square, with the huge Father Christmas looking down on us from the Town Hall; apparently you can see it from space. That’s nice for Major Tim Peake then, isn’t it? We had a glass of wine in the Royal Exchange bar, by which time The Grinch was beginning to turn slightly less green and relax a bit. We went for dinner in The Rice Bowl before going to Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at the Royal Exchange in the evening, another lovely event. The stand-out reader from the MMU writing school for me was Mark Pajak: make a note of the name. Little Machine had top billing, a group of musicians (guitars, keyboard, drums) who had collaborated with Carol Ann Duffy on Christmas story, The Dark Rose. They performed the work with a backdrop of video representations. It was lovely, some rock, some punk; a really pleasant and different event.

Tuesday saw me settled down to the rewrite of RD1. I had started it in Grange but was determined to finish it on Tuesday, at least as a second draft and email it to my team. I worked for five hours without a break, although I didn’t realise that until I thought it was done and looked at my watch. I read it through a couple of times, corrected a couple of typos, then went to get lunch. I think email is sometimes too instant and regret can set in very quickly after pressing the ‘send’ button. So I waited until after lunch, had another re-read, decided I could trust it and sent it out to earn its keep again. My only concern is that there may not be enough detail in it to satisfy the academics who will judge it. But it is difficult to know where the detail will be until the research is done, so it’s a kind of Catch 22. I await feed back.

On Tuesday evening I went for a lovely meal with two poets friends. We were in Grange together, so apart from the wine, the food and the chat, we also shared the poems we wrote over the weekend, all very different, all well worth a read.

In between all this, I have been carrying on with the Freud reading: Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality. I realise I am only surface reading at the moment. After Christmas, when life settles into something approximating to ‘normal’, I will read more critically, really get to grips with his work. But when my son was doing his English A level, too many years ago to be believable, I always told him to just read the books first, get a drift of the story, before doing the analytical thing, which can destroy a work of art by fragmenting it before you have  a picture of the whole. So I have been taking my own advice, and in my opinion it still holds true. I can’t wait to deep read now I have the gist.

So, I guess this is the end of term 1. I may still have work to do on RD1, we’ll see. But when I think how intrepidated (is that even a word?) I felt in September, I realise I am feeling much more at ease with this idea of a PhD now. I still have a long way to go; and I still don’t know if I’ll get to the end. But I feel better about taking the steps, one foot in front of the other to cover the ground. And so far I have been true to my promise to self, not to abandon any aspect of my life that is important to who I am.

On that happy note, a  lighthearted poem about work:

A Topping Job

When I was old enough to have the confidence

but too young to see the frightening possibilities

I accepted the offer of a job in a canning factory,

first aider, evening shift.

My station, my red cross box, was in the factory

laboratory by a large window where women paid ten bob

a shift less than me worked like slaves

topping and tailing carrots by hand. For my part,

I knitted. In the four months I worked for Chivers-

Hartley-Schweppes my output was four matinee jackets,

three hats and scarves, two jumpers

and a pair of bedsocks for Gran. On the hour,

every hour, this vital work was interrupted by the need

to weigh a can of carrots in brine, compliant with some law.

Once in a while I even applied a Band Aid to a cut thumb.


Rachel Davies

RD1 is back in the building!

Well, another productive week. I’ll start with Thursday when I had the all-important meeting with my support team re the submittability of my RD1, that hoop to jump through, that monkey on my back. The good news is: the proforma is finished, the Gannt chart is OK but probably superfluous, the ethics and insurance checklists are done. The bad news is: a complete rewrite of the 1000 word proposal. The content of the proposal is good; but the language needs to be translated from English into Academish. Take out the ‘I am interested in…’ replace with ‘I will investigate…will be examined…’ etc. Set out the methodology more clearly; show how the psychoanalytic theory will inform my reading of the poets but also that my reading of the poetry will throw a light on psychoanalytic theory, a two-way process.

I reported to the team that I have done a lot of reading around psychoanalytic theory, reading academic commentaries on Freud, Klein, Chodorow etc. I mentioned that this had helped and I was getting a clearer mental picture of the theories but I was finding Kleinian theory a challenge. Of course, Klein is a psychoanalytical writer I must get to grips with in reading mother-daughter relationships: she is essential reading. So I was given details of books to read to clarify the theory before reading her in the original; also to read Freud in the original, as I always planned to do. Although not the original original, I don’t have German beyond zimmer und fruhstuck, ausgerzeichnert and has zu gut geschlafen; and I can’t swear to the spelling of those. All of which I’m guessing won’t help me much with reading Freud in the original original. So I’ll read a good translation into English instead.

I told the team about my weekly blog, which they were very interested in, said if nothing else it would help with the reflection on my learning toward the end of the project. Angelica suggested it might be good to present a paper about the blog to conference, perhaps next year. So I think I had best make it more reflective of my learning and less anecdotal than it has been to date. Although anecdote is useful in helping me get the PhD work organised into the context of my life, so I think it won’t disappear altogether. And humour is something I can’t seem to get out of my writing, it creeps in like a worm when I’m not looking. But I will reflect more on my learning as I go along; try to make my blog more at home where I am not really at home myself, in academe.

So, I left my team meeting with mixed feelings.I felt happy to grow the blog into something more academic; I felt ready to move the reading on to hard core psychoanalytic theory. And I felt like a failure re the need to rewrite the proposal and the limited time to do it. Of course, thanks to the Demon Headteacher, it is the negative aspect I concentrate on. So I did what any good academic would do: I went to the Eighth Day cafe opposite MMU and comfort-ate pie! Then I went into the library to do a search of Klein and Freud, found the books I was after, began a skim read, decided I really needed to own them for longer than a library loan and so ordered them from Amazon before I left the library.

Thursday evening was the launch of The New Manchester Alphabet at the city art gallery. The NMA is an anthology of poems by students and staff of the MMU writing school in collaboration with the School of Art,  a remake of the first Manchester Alphabet from early 20th century. It is an A-to-Z (I bet you hadn’t guessed that!) of places and landmarks in Manchester. It was a lovely event, a beautiful book. I met lots of MMU poet friends, one of whom has just submitted his PhD for assessment and another who, like me, is just starting her PhD. Both had been asked to rewrite their proposals too, said it was fairly standard at this stage. So I came away feeling better about myself, bought wine on the way home to go with the take-away as I didn’t have time to cook.

On Friday I drove to Grange-over-Sands for the poetry carousel organised by another ex-MMU poet friend, Kim Moore. Ian Duhig, Amanda Dalton and Andrew Forster are the other rides on the carousel. Andrew is also starting the PhD this term so it was good to compare progress. Guess what? Andrew was also asked to rewrite his proposal; twice! So I am coming to terms with this as a commonplace while realising I had better knock on with it, because there aren’t enough days left in the year to allow for more than one rewrite. Saturday morning, 4.00 a.m saw me propped up in bed, laptop open, beginning the rewrite. Almost done, just need some relevant quotes to back up my outline so Tuesday this week will see it finished and resubmitted, hopefully.

The carousel has been wonderful, so good to have four admirable poets to provide ideas for writing; and the bonus is, some of the poems I am writing here might well serve the PhD portfolio. I include one of them at the end for your perusal. Must sign off now, have some Freud to read. By the way, is it acceptable to laugh out loud while reading Freud? I found myself doing that this weekend, he really is very entertaining. Who knew?


And This Is Also Work

We rarely saw him, he was always answering

the call of the fields, the horses, the planting

and harvesting, the men, the beer.

She was the one who taught us

what work is, the getting up at dawn,

the porridge simmering on the flame,

the hot suds and cracked hands

the iron heating on the range

the broom and mangle, the muscle

as the heart of power, the bearing,

the suckling, the midnight nursing,

the churning of milk to butter.

Sometimes she worked on the farm

potato picking, beet singling, cleaning

the eggs of blood and shit for market.

She was told she could keep the lash eggs

and any that were cracked, payment

for her labour. She did what she had to.




Books and yet more books

It’s Sunday again, how fast they follow!

This week has all been about reading. I promised myself at least 2 hours per day, and so far I am in advance of that target. I finished the Forrester book ‘Seductions of Psychoanalysis’. I sort of joked that I understood 5% of it last week: that joke just got older but no better. It was psychoanalysis presented in a very academic voice. I did find it difficult to follow; but then, no-one said a PhD should be easy. I have started reading Elliott, ‘Psychoanalytic Theory: an Introduction’ and I must say it is being kinder to me. He sets out the case for a variety of theories and then sums up why they aren’t the definitive article. I like that. The hardest section deals with Kleinian theory, but every time I read some, I ‘get it’ a bit more. So I will persevere.

I also finished reading Vol 1 of Robert Graves ‘Greek Myths’ in bed this morning. This has been my bedtime read. I borrowed Vol 1 and 2 from MMU library and then realised when I got them home that they were on a one week loan so I put them on my Kindle. Now I can read them at my leisure. I realise I don’t have to read all of them, that only a few are relevant to my project, but really, they are so fascinating I have decided I want to read them all. Fascinating also how Graves relates the myths to real historical events to show where the myths, the gods and goddesses originated from. I’m really looking forward to starting Vol 2 tonight!

My younger son had his birthday this week. He rang me early in the week to arrange to come for a sleep over on 12th December. I checked my diary and said that was fine, we would be here and we arranged for an invasion: Mike and his wife and son; his two step-daughters, their partners and babies (three between them). All I have to do is provide enough sleeping space!  I told my partner I had agreed to 12th and he said ‘that’s a Saturday isn’t it?’ Well, in my diary it was a Thursday, so I checked my diary again and realised I had been looking at November instead of December! On 12th December I will be in Grange over Sands at a poetry weekend run by the lovely Kim Moore, with Andrew Forster, Amanda Dalton and Ian Duhig also having an input. So of course I rang Mike again to tell him I wouldn’t be here but he was very welcome to come anyway, I would make up beds for them all before I go. He didn’t like the idea of coming when I won’t be here, he wanted to visit me, so he changed the date to 22nd December. The good news is my elder son can also come on that date. Not sure where I’ll put them all, but we’ll get by. That’s what families do. My daughter lives a couple of miles down the road from me so we’ll have a family party: it’s not often I get together with all my children at once so I’m really looking forward to that. Of course, I’ll need to plan it into all the PhD work, get ahead of myself so that I can enjoy the time out.

Yesterday I went to the Christmas markets in Lincoln with my daughter. We travelled by train, an interminable journey that involved 1 change on the way there and two changes and a delay on the way home. We met up with No.1 son and other friends in the beautiful Lincoln Cathedral. Unlike Manchester’s seasonal markets, which last for several weeks, the Lincoln markets were only on for this weekend and it felt as if the entire population of East Anglia had amassed in Lincoln. It was heaving with humanity. We all walked around the route of the stalls in a clockwise direction like some Victorian fantasy of a visit to IKEA. We couldn’t get to many stalls because of the crush, but we did manage to access the gluhwein stalls, obviously. After a couple of hours we left the Cathedral/Castle area and went in search of food. Walking down Steep Hill I called into a delightful bookshop, Lindum Books, and bought two poetry books. So, I went to Lincoln to do Christmas shopping and ended up with two more poetry books, Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ and Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas’. I’m seeing Duffy read again at Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at the Royal Exchange Theatre on 14th December, so I can get that one signed then.

Did I need two more poetry books? Of course I didn’t. But I didn’t need the gluhwein either and that didn’t stop me. Sometimes just wanting is enough.